In Ms Edwards’ case, the prosecution mocked her “grandiose platitudes about protecting the American people” and dismissed her description of herself as a whistleblower. Yes, he conceded, she had started by alerting the relevant authorities to narrowly defined problems. But then, the prosecution argued, she became a thug, sending Mr. Leopold “indiscriminately” thousands of documents that “were not intended to expose any particular wrongdoing.”
On this last point, the prosecution was correct: the documents did not reveal a single wrongdoing in particular. They offered a holistic view of global financial corruption.
Perhaps the most important documents Ms Edwards handed over were more than 2,000 “suspicious activity reports,” which banks file with the US government to warn of possible financial misconduct. Never before have journalists seen so many financial transactions that the world’s banks themselves considered suspicious but too often carried out anyway.
A Treasury Department agency is supposed to sift through reports of suspicious activity and alert law enforcement agencies if the transactions appear likely to be crimes. But sources told BuzzFeed News officials haven’t even read most of the reports and rarely take action on them. Worse yet, filing reports virtually immunizes banks and their executives from criminal prosecution. Far from being a tool to stamp out financial misconduct, the reports give banks a free pass to continue moving money and collecting fees.
When the government cracks down on banks, it frequently relies on deferred prosecution agreements – courtesy agreements that include fines but not immediate high-level arrests. But the suspicious activity reports we looked at on BuzzFeed News showed that even when some banks were subject to such deals, they still made questionable transactions.
When the series of articles based on the information provided by Ms Edwards was published, it spurred significant action by authorities around the world. British lawmakers have opened a formal investigation into UK banking supervision. Members of the European Parliament pushed for a stronger and unified strategy to fight money laundering. And in Washington, veteran lawmakers have given the FinCEN Files investigation credit for helping push through the most important anti-money laundering legislation in a generation. In his memorandum last week, Mr Biden specifically said that implementing this law would be a cornerstone of his administration’s anti-corruption effort.
But Ms Edwards, whose revelations helped bring about these reforms, was ordered to report to jail in August. It is unfair and unfair. Our criminal justice system must recognize that much of what we know about financial corruption, government surveillance and corporate crime does not come from journalists working in isolation, but from journalists working with people who risk their freedom. and their livelihood to make sure the truth comes out.